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North Circle Route, Glacier, MT
Not quite halfway into a 43-mile, C-shape route through the heart of Glacier's stupendous high country comes a point at which most backpackers simply can't take another step. Fatigue is not the problem. From atop Fifty Mountain Pass, the view in every direction includes mountains ice-sculpted into horns, blocks, pyramids, fins, and cresting waves of striated rock. Presumably 50 high peaks in all, should you count them. Which you should do, insists Denny Gignoux, owner of Glacier Mountain Guides. "Every day spent at Fifty Mountain adds a year to your life," he says. Hikers who complete this route might live a very long time indeed; it maximizes time spent above the park's magical 6,000-foot threshold, where krummholz gives way to alpine tundra and stunning views. The route begins at Logan Pass and heads north on the Highline Trail, a deservedly popular path right under the Continental Divide (take the .5-mile detour to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook). Past Granite Park Chalet the trails get lonelier and the views even bigger. Connect Fifty Mountain, Stoney Indian Pass, and Ptarmigan Tunnel (a 75-foot-long corridor blasted through the Ptarmigan Wall) before ending at Many Glacier. Book a night in the early 20th-century log-and-stone hotel for a proper finish.